Ixcanul: On the Volcano

Nov 19, 2015 by Nickelodeon on The Nickelodeon Blog

The slumbering exhalations of an active volcano surround the characters in Ixcanul (Volcano), a new film from Guatemala. The camera is observational—too sumptuous to be ethnographic, too determined to be sanitized—but stays close to the entrancing rhythms of radically secluded life. The community lives on the slope of a volcano, harvesting coffee beans and trying to breed pigs. They speak Kaqchikel, not Spanish, and as a rural, poor, agricultural village, they have no running water, electricity, or modern ornaments of life. Ixcanul does not distance itself from the human community it depicts, but stays out of the way of the main characters: a young woman, Maria, her well-off suitor, her poor beloved, and her mother. The film’s intimacy gives the characters space and time to understand their environment and—after Maria becomes pregnant—increasingly dire predicament.

The film caps the 18th Annual Native American Indian Film & Video Festival of the Southeast, an exhibition and celebration of indigenous cinema across the globe. Ixcanul breathes with humanity in a genre that too often approaches its subjects from the outside, as others. While the Kaqchikel community is certainly unlike any with the capacity to screen the film, emotional resonances signify on the actors’ faces, in their daily work, in their willing divergence from the seemingly immutable forms of living we take for granted. The non-professional actors move through the lush, accomplished cinematography and sound design, the technical and human aspects aligning at the capture of human expression, a young woman’s reaction to a life out of her control, but seemingly within no one else’s.

—Mike Opal

Showtime and ticket info here.